Shattering the Myth of the Alleged Caliphate of the Self-proclaimed IS
It hardly needs to be emphasized that the biggest threat to peace in today’s world comes from religiously motivated violence operating in many regions across the world, particularly those terrorists, who are better identified as ISIS or Al-Qa'ida Separatists in Iraq and Syria, who perpetrate the most horrifying massacres day in day out.
They claim to be establishing what they call an “Islamic caliphate”, thus eliminating mainstream interpretations of Islam and the opinions of genuine Muslim scholars whom they do not recognize as Muslim.
They never explain, however, what an "Islamic state" has to do with their terrorist actions like brutally slitting throats, burning schools, oppressing women, killing religious minorities, and terrorizing and violating the human rights of people in the most blatant manner.
We, the mainstream Muslims, should not leave the field open for prejudices to be formed against all of us and our religion. I personally find it difficult to blame the average people of the non-Muslim world who are quickly developing Islamophobic tendencies. While there indeed are forces that are exploiting the situation to further their own vested interests, I feel that it is the passivity of mainstream Islam, the nonchalance of the moderate Muslims that is largely to blame for this state of affairs. I hope the time has not passed for us to do something about it and join the struggle in earnest. The war against terror has to be fought and won by Muslims on the ideological front.
What worries me are the attempts to mobilize Muslim youth by raising deceitful slogans, thus playing an important role in destroying the region's unity and integrity.
In this essay, I offer a counter argument to the opportunistic call to establishing the Islamic State or a Muslim Caliphate by employing a global "jihad" or, to be precise, an intra-ethnic cleansing directed against the followers of their own faith as a means to accomplish their alleged goal.
Historically speaking, Muslims have disagreed over the question of whether the caliphate is a religious obligation or merely a political option. They likewise disagreed over the specific connotations of several texts upheld by some religious schools.
By looking back at accounts in the aftermath of the demise of the Prophet 623 AD, when selected delegates met at Saqifat Bani Sa’da, it is evident that a strong argument arose between the two communities, the Meccan immigrants (the emigrants), and the Medinan converts (the helpers), over the entitlement of each party to choose the successor to the Prophet.
The two parties who were present at the assembly understood the meaning of the term caliphate, as they talked of succession to the Prophet’s political authority or, in their words, to “Muhammad’s sovereignty”.
The content of the argument that took place at the time manifests the political nature of the contention over the succession to Muslim rule. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab supported the Muhajirun’s entitlement to succession with the following argument, “By God, the Arab tribes would not agree on any leader other than a person from the Quraysh tribe.” In support of Umar’s words, Sa’d Ibn Bashir from the Ansars said, “Muhammad, the Messenger of God, is a Quraishite and his fellow tribesmen are more entitled to [a successor from his tribe].”
It follows that Muslim jurists and political writers did not derive the concept of caliphate from religious texts or that the Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon him) commanded this form of government. Rather, Islamic jurisprudence managed to compile and codify the experiences of the period that followed the Prophet's death, especially the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and consequently, throughout the various stages of its evolution, the caliphate theory was considered "a practical codification of the political system dictated by the then political, social and religious landscape”. Wth each change of authority, the theory of caliphate changed accordingly.
Political necessities rather than religious obligations were the most prominent factors which influenced the formation and acceptance of this institution. They thought that without a leader to succeed the Prophet after his death, the entity of Islam would surely disintegrate and the affairs of the Muslims would fall in the hands of incompetent individuals. In addition, the existence of a leader was imperative to spread religious enlightenment and guard Muslim borders, thereby increasing the spread of Islam.
Numerous books were authored that strongly suggest that the texts mentioned on the Sunni Caliphate and Shi'a Imamate were written in the context of political conflict among religious sects and in light of the conflict that erupted after Mu’awiyya introduced dynastic succession to Muslim rule.
This discussion aims to explain that the caliphate is not mentioned in religious texts but, like the rest of the political systems, is the product of human endeavor subject to territorial and circumstantial changes and to historicism. Based on this, the success or failure of any political system depends on its ability to adapt to and justify its existence and preserve its societal laws, a matter that cannot be imposed by means of established religious texts. Rather, this is manifested in the principle that the Prophet laid down himself “You know best the affairs of your worldly life”. The need for a successor after the Messenger’s death was only due to the fact that the law cannot be put into practice without the existence of an authority to enforce it. The caliphate was the only legitimate authority and the existing political option at the time.
The caliph in this ruling system was the only legislative authority. If Muslims at that time had recourse to other political options, they would have surely taken them into consideration.
With this said, does the current call to establishing a so-called Islamic State imply that we are to do away with the political system of the modern nation states existing at present and embark on a replication of the ancient political choice of the Caliphate? Does the call of QSIS carry any weight?
Before delving into these questions, we need to reiterate the understanding of the mainstream Muslim scholars that Islam is not a static, authoritarian system devoid of flexibility. To live in accordance with Islam does not necessitate a return to the middle ages, nor does it require that we cease to be who we are. Islam has never required its adherents to give up their own cultures nor dictated on them a specific norm of governance.
This flexibility is not just present in the cultural output of Muslims. It is an integral part of the Islamic legal tradition as well; in fact, you could say it is one of the defining characteristics of Islamic law. Islamic law is both a methodology and the collection of positions adopted by Muslim jurists over the last 1,400 years. Those centuries were witness to no less than 90 schools of legal thought, and the twenty-first century finds us in the providential position to look back on this tradition in order to find that which will benefit us today. This is one of the first steps in the issuing of a fatwa (legal edict). Fatwas represent the bridge between the legal tradition and the contemporary world in which we live. They are the link between the past and the present, the absolute and the relative, the theoretical and the practical. For this reason, it takes more than just knowledge of Islamic law to issue a fatwa. Muftis must also have an in-depth understanding of the world in which they are living and the problems that their communities are facing. When those who lack these qualifications issue fatwas the result is the extremism we see today. We have to be clear about what is at stake here. When each and every person's unqualified opinion is considered a fatwa we lose a tool which is of the utmost importance in reigning in extremism and preserving the flexibility and balance of Islamic law.
The experience that Egypt went through can be taken as an example of this. This period of development was begun by Muhammad Ali Pasha around the early nineteenth century and was continued by the Khediv Ismail who attempted to build a modern state. This meant a reformulation of Islamic law, but not a rewriting of it. Many people are under the impression that Egypt adopted French law. This is not the case. Islamic law was rewritten in the form of French law but retained its Islamic essence. This process led Egypt to become a modern state run by a system of democracy. None of the Muslim scholars of Egypt objected to this. Muslims are free to choose whichever system of government they deem most appropriate for them. The principles of freedom and human dignity for which liberal democracy stands are themselves part of the foundation for the Islamic worldview; it is the achievement of this freedom and dignity within a religious context that Islamic law strives for.
The world has witnessed tremendous change over the last two hundred years. This change came in the form of new technologies and political ideologies. There were also new technologies that developed, thereby allowing us to be aware of what is happening in nearly every part of the world the instant that it occurs, whereas in the past it would take months if not years for even the most urgent news to spread. This wave of change has caused a complete alteration of nearly every aspect of our lives. It is this modern occurrence that presents the greatest difficulty to Muslim jurists and muftis. In the past, there was little alteration of the way things worked and progressed. Even when things changed, it was slow and isolated to a handful of fields. The change of the past two hundred years, however, has made it necessary to re-examine how everything works. This means that the way in which Islamic law is applied must take into account this change.
The flexibility and adaptability of Islamic law is perhaps its greatest asset. To provide people with practical and relevant guidance while at the same time staying true to its foundational principles, Islam allows the wisdom and moral strength of religion to be applied in modern times. It is through adopting this attitude towards the Sharia that an authentic, contemporary, moderate, and tolerant Islam can provide solutions to the problems confronting the Muslim world today.